EL PASO — Romeo Parkes temporarily extended New Mexico’s season with some cardiac heroics late in Saturday’s United Soccer League playoff match in El Paso, but when it was on him to keep the season alive for at least one more week, he couldn’t get it done.
The United defender had a shot denied in the fourth round of penalty kicks as the El Paso Locomotive FC made off with a 5-3 victory in PKs.
The win sends El Paso into next week’s USL Western Conference Finals against Phoenix. The loss ends New Mexico’s wild and truly remarkable 2020 season, one in which the club never played a single home match and spent every minute since the league’s restart in midsummer either holed up in its own bubble or on the road for one of 17 matches outside the state.
The United managed just three shots in the first half of Saturday’s contest, going the first 45 minutes without a solid scoring opportunity. The lone breakthrough came in the 30th minute when Locomotive FC forward Dylan Mares gathered a ball in the upper left side of the box and fired a shot between two defenders into the net.
Mares had Kalen Ryden leaning the wrong way when he set up for a right-footed shot that screamed diagonally across the mouth of the goal and past the outstretched arms of United goalkeeper Cody Mizell.
Coming into the match, both teams had crafted a reputation as top-notch defensive clubs. El Paso’s eight shutouts were tied for the league lead with the United posting seven clean sheets.
With a 1-0 lead, El Paso settled into a game of keep away while packing it in on defense. It wasn’t until the 59th minute that the United had a decent scoring opportunity.
That’s when David Najem floated a shot from outside the left side of the box that El Paso keeper Logan Ketterer got his hands on but misplayed beyond the end line for a corner kick. Nothing came of it as each team again settled into a defensive slugfest.
New Mexico got another pair of quality looks a minute apart starting in the 78th minute. Chris Wehan had a free kick that was directly on goal from El Paso’s end. Ketterer dove forward to make the save in the box, a move that drew a kiss on the head from teammate Yuma Monsalvez.
Moments later, the United were on the attack again, this time with Najem sending a long ball into the box as he raced free along the sideline.
Two United players were streaking at the front of the attack and Devon Sandoval had the best look. He slid forward into the box but was a mere inches short from sending what would have been the game-tying shot into the net.
Just a few yards away streaking in from Sandoval’s left was Parkes. Had the ball not been on an angle to intercept Sandoval, it would have found Parkes all alone for a point-blank shot.
What seemed like the last chance came in the 89th minute when a Najem floater into a crowded box was punched away by Ketterer. Six minutes of stoppage time was added to the end of the second half, and until Parkes’s shocking goal with about 90 seconds left before the final whistle, it appeared New Mexico’s season was destined to end.
Instead, Parkes wound up from 10 yards outside the top of the box and fired a waist-high liner that passed by seven El Paso players and inside the far post for the equalizer.
Two 15-minute overtime sessions followed and all the momentum was clearly with New Mexico. Several scoring chances forced Ketterer to go above and beyond his typical workload. For his part, Mizell was also up to the task with two huge saves in the first OT.
Both teams made their first three attempts in PKs, but Parkes was denied on New Mexico’s fourth try. El Paso’s Distel Zola clinched it seconds later, beating Mizell to close out a 5-3 advantage.